Recently, two acquaintances fell prey to credit and debit card fraud. In both cases, account numbers were obtained through sophisticated scams. On looking into this topic, I found that the elderly are particularly vulnerable. A recent U.S. Senate study labeled elder financial abuse an “epidemic” costing nearly $3 billion annually. Financial abuse includes the taking of money under false pretenses, such as the use of credit cards without authorization. Overcharges or other deceptive business practices by unscrupulous professionals is a more subtle form of abuse.

Predators seek out older people who may be isolated or have a lack of familiarity with financial matters. Signs of financial abuse include unusual account withdrawals or credit card charges, or other atypical financial activity. The older person may exhibit a sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters or have a “new best friend.”

Here are some steps to help avoid elder financial abuse:

  • Remind the elder to not make major financial decisions without consulting a trusted person.
  • Have checks direct-deposited and bills paid automatically.
  • Have bank and credit card accounts reconciled frequently.
  • Be very suspicious of requests for personal information, Social Security numbers, or account numbers.
  • Use a shredder.

An elderly person who can afford it should consider hiring a professional financial caretaker. This professional can review and respond to mail, monitor accounts, pay bills and generally assist with personal business and day-to-day financial activities.